By Kirsty Angus
We first found out about Wildlife SOS through a fellow Australian traveller and then saw a 2 page spread about the organization and the amazing work they were doing in one of our newspapers in Melbourne.
We stayed for 2 weeks which passed incredibly quickly. From our very first day we felt fully welcome and a part of the friendly team. A representative from Wildlife SOS picked us up from our hotel in Agra, which was the start of our wonderful experience volunteering at Wildlife SOS.
Part of what I learned to love about this organization was the pragmatic approach they are taking to the complex issues they face. I got a clear understanding that in order to rescue and rehabilitate the bears, the Kalandar people needed to be helped with opportunities for a new future and livelihood as well. This really helped us to see what a wonderful organization they have as well as the vision to drive to succeed.
Our accomodations were such a pleasant surprise! We stayed in a beautiful area of the sanctuary where we could watch the bird and animal life in the evening. This was such a peaceful retreat after being in the bustling streets of Agra. I think we saw more wildlife at Wildlife SOS than when we visited a National Park! We had a beautiful boat trip over the river and back each day to our accommodations, some of the sunrises were just stunning. We had a spacious room, hot showers and electricity. They were even installing Wi-Fi whilst we were there and a kitchenette for the volunteers. I loved waking up each morning to the sound of the bird life and seeing Nilgai or the little Peacock family right outside our front door.
We couldn’t wait to get to ‘work’ each morning! In Agra, Wildlife SOS runs both the Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF) and the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC). We were lucky enough to spend our time between the two sites. At ABRF the time volunteering may include helping the keepers prepare the bear’s food, cleaning and repairing the enclosure, making enrichments (no prior experience necessary), observing the vet staff or general office duties. Due to the nature of bears being bears, there is no contact with them as a volunteer. However, a volunteer is treated like staff and we had the freedom to walk around the rescue facility and watch the bears. We spent many hours just watching them and getting to know them, it was fantastic.
At the ECCC, a volunteer day may entail walking with the elephants in the morning and evening, helping prepare their food enrichments, helping the mahouts wash the elephants and cleaning up after the elephants. The centre is a unique place with 7 special elephants who all have their own story. After a few days we knew all of their names and personalities and nothing would bring us more joy than to watch them walking freely and playing. The mahouts are wonderful with them and we always felt so welcomed there. I had been reading about the most recent rescue of Laxmi before we arrived. I was so excited to meet her in ‘person’. To see how happy she is and how well she is being looked after really warmed my heart and that will stay with me forever.
The food we were provided with was amazing! We had been traveling through India but the best food we had was at Wildlife SOS. There was also opportunity to go out to the local supermarket if you required other supplies. As an Australian, I was pretty excited to find cornflakes and milk!
I have travelled quite extensively and I have never felt so much a part of a team as we did at Wildlife SOS- every single member of the team, the manager, the vet staff, the bear keepers, the drivers, the elephant mahouts and even the rescued dogs. We were lucky enough to meet the founders of the organization who not only welcomed us but wanted to make sure we were comfortable. They also showed a genuine interest in us and were eager to hear about our experiences. We always could approach the staff about anything we needed and felt 100% comfortable and at home from the start of our time there. In fact, the two weeks we were there went by so quickly, we didn’t want to go home!
The obvious original draw card of volunteering at Wildlife SOS was the animals. If you love animals, then there is no doubt you will just love this experience. What I wasn’t expecting was to meet such amazing, friendly and inspirational people. We are planning to go back next year and stay for a longer period of time. In the meantime, I have sponsored Bhola, one of the elephants.
If you have one week or more, I couldn’t recommend volunteering here more highly. Either as a single traveller or as a group. You will not only have the experience of a life time, but you will be helping an amazing cause.